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Eve Milner's 'Crossing Lines': Inspiring redefined notions of "The Bigger Picture"

In her most recent solo exhibition comprising 18 hand-toned cyanotypes, and entitled Crossing Lines, photographer Eve Milner LRPS embarked on a daunting diversion from the familiar in order to respond to an unshakable creative preoccupation. What began as a deeply personal experience in facing challenges would ultimately encourage the artist and her wider community to consider universal notions of societal accessibility and acceptance.

Eve Milner LRPS with visitors to 'Crossing Lines at Jeannie Agent Gallery. Photo by Kate Fensterstock, 2023.
Eve Milner with visitors to 'Crossing Lines at Jeannie Agent Gallery. Photo by Kate Fensterstock, 2023.

Crossing Lines was exhibited with Jeannie Avent Gallery in East Dulwich, a bright little building that sits slightly uphill on the high street in plain view. Charming in its design yet carefully constructed with the art’s display as the key focus, enormous windows bring the experience directly to the people in the street. Sunlight streams through the window on an unusually mild February afternoon, illuminating the prints on the wall and mixing with the toned inks to highlight their rich and varying hues of blue, sepia and mauve.

Gallery view of 'Crossing Lines' at Jeannie Avent Gallery. Courtesy of Eve Milner LRPS, 2023.
Gallery view of 'Crossing Lines' at Jeannie Avent Gallery. Courtesy of Eve Milner, 2023.

Eve Milner, "St. Audrie's Bay", Hand tone cyanotype, 2022. Photo by Kate Fensterstock.
Eve Milner, "St. Audrie's Bay", Hand-toned cyanotype, 2022. Photo by Kate Fensterstock.

Eve Milner, "Roupell Street, Waterloo", Hand tone cyanotype, 2021. Courtesy of Eve Milner.
Eve Milner, "Roupell Street, Waterloo", Hand-toned cyanotype, 2021. Courtesy of Eve Milner.

The space engages with the nature of the work in a beautiful symbiosis, reinforcing the significance of this particular process and materiality for Eve as an artist and what this body of work has meant for her practice. To trace this narrative thread, Eve reflects on how she came to photography, first receiving a DSLR camera and an introductory photography course as a gift from her family for her 65th birthday. Her artistic flame had in fact been relegated to the back burner for decades. “Looking back, I was very creative as a child. But it was strongly discouraged at the time though, because in the 1950s anything creative was not considered a ‘proper job’. Consequently, my working career centred around commerce, education and hospitality, and there was no time to put substantial energy into anything creative.”


The catalyst came in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic, which offered Eve the opportunity to explore landscapes of creative expression, as almost everything was locked down and our worlds suddenly became so much smaller and confined. “I had the chance to fully prioritise my lifelong curiosities surrounding art,” she explains, “because we were all being encouraged to try new things and keep busy.” Eve joined an online group run by London Independent Photography which provided a community and an accessible educational resource. The basis of Eve’s initial exposure to photography was digital, largely due to logistical and technical limitations set by the pandemic. Digital also resonated with Eve with regards to her personality. “It fitted my profile, I thought it was 'me' – point, shoot, get it done, on to the next thing. It is a clean process, it is forgiving, there are lots of chances to get it right.”


This relationship to her practice as a reflection of her own self-awareness was beginning to manifest itself. As digital was accessible, manageable, and naturally fit aspects of Eve’s temperament, the technique provided a slow and steady introduction that would be crucial to Eve’s commitment to photography overall. As lockdown lifted, Eve would gravitate towards portraiture and social documentary, providing subject matter through which she could connect with people, the local environment and initiatives surrounding social change: all of which she has a natural understanding of, and fervent enthusiasm for.


Eve Milner, "Dede Prepares to Box", Digital C-print, Unlimited edition, 2022. Courtesy of Eve Milner.
Eve Milner, "Dede Prepares to Box", Digital C-print, Unlimited edition, 2022. Courtesy of Eve Milner.

Cyanotypes had always mesmerised Eve, but the process involved in their creation lacks the comfort and understanding that she had enjoyed thus far in her practice. She came across a series of cyanotype prints made by Anna Atkins from the 1840s and was hugely drawn to the imagery, the materiality and the deep and visceral tones. “These prints were made by a woman, at a time where women were not allowed to practice in the scientific fields, which resonated with me given my own experience of being denied my personal artistic expression. I couldn’t help but wonder if I was capable of producing such work. The doubts were almost overwhelming - this woman had access to the necessary chemicals and mentoring through her personal acquaintance with the inventor of the process – John Herschel … but even if I did, I’m clumsy and cack-handed, and I’ll never grasp the technical detail - I shouldn’t be so ridiculous. But my curator, in their quintessentially steadfast Yorkshire manner, would routinely reply to my hesitations with, “Give it a go, what have you got to lose?”


Eve’s curator is J Nash of Sullen Riot Curation, a team which provides professional and creative support to talented artists who lack access and resources, or who experience other limitations on their potential. Eve first collaborated with J on an early lockdown project in which she was exploring nude self-portraits, a true challenge in pushing boundaries of creative practice and facing personal notions of self-worth. “It began as a technical exercise in lighting and staging and as I was the only model available, I had to overcome the excruciating embarrassment of turning the camera on myself. But it was also an opportunity to consider the effects of isolation, mental health, ageing, and how our relationships with ourselves fare during this. J loved them and was adamant I should show them, and show them big – A2! At the show, I was encouraged and very touched by the positive response I received, especially from elder women, who really appreciated finding themselves in these nudes.


Eve Milner, "Self Portrait in a Time of Covid", Digital C-print, Unlimited edition, 2020. Courtesy of Eve Milner.

Eve touches here on elements of imposter syndrome that she feels all too regularly, coming to photography at a later stage of life and without the specialised higher education of many others in the field. It was here that J became indispensable to Eve’s work and her development as an artist. “My curator keeps my nose to the grindstone. Their encouragement, their critique, and their shoulder to cry on all paired with an overwhelmingly strong eye and firm grasp on art world logistics has proven to be an indispensable winning formula. We are very much a team.” As Eve emphasises, a good mentor is critical. Clearly, the artist’s priority is to negotiate what preoccupies their mind and emotions, and develop the strongest mode of creative output. As a result, it is crucial to have a team to help with the rest. The most capable and effective curator ultimately frames what their artist has the potential to achieve.


The “give it a go” mantra from J grew into a resounding battle cry over the next several months as Eve went to war with her cyanotype process. “J did not stop pushing me, never wavered in their vision. I, however, was on the brink of despair. Endless mistakes, endless failures, with no personal hope of improving, much less pulling through with a body of work to show at the end of it.” Crossing Lines had been confirmed for February, and as the date loomed closer, COVID-19 ironically stepped in to aid matters once again. “I tested positive and chose to spend my enforced isolation in as fruitful a manner as possible, working methodically and tirelessly, with a set goal of three decent works each day. This consistency and regularity seemed to be the answer. With J’s voice echoing in my mind, I kept going and found the process to be getting easier. I looked up one day and realised 18 pieces had come into being through the doing. I had truly never thought that possible.”


Eve Milner holding a sold print at 'Crossing Lines' at Jeannie Avent Gallery. Photo by Kate Fensterstock, 2023.
Eve Milner holding a sold print at 'Crossing Lines' at Jeannie Avent Gallery. Photo by Kate Fensterstock, 2023.

The combination of several factors would be responsible for Eve’s accomplishment. The opportunity to devote time and focus to an ongoing creative urge whilst backed by the support and expertise from J would be key in diversifying Eve’s practice. First and foremost, however, it has allowed access to something that otherwise seemed blocked. “Whether it was being pushed into a more ‘legitimate’ career in the 1950s, or navigating professional photography as an older woman lacking specialised higher education, my struggle with confidence and constant apprehension stems from these key factors. There are societal constructs that can exist within the creative field that I find to be hugely intimidating and through an experience like Crossing Lines, I have realised how limiting they can be. At my age, I don’t want to be put into a box. I don’t want to feel I have to have a niche that I cannot stray from. Freedom of expression and exploration is critical at any age, even more so when you feel that time is finite. Crossing Lines gave me an artistic challenge to cross lines – literally - and discover new territory in my work. But it also revealed the greater challenges I face as a non-conventional artist and how to deal with this type of adversity head on.”


With methodical effort and unwavering support from those with faith, Eve found the power to overcome personal difficulties that in turn would inspire her, and hopefully others, to oppose greater limitations and offer opportunity to all.


For more information on Eve Milner LRPS, Sullen Riot Curation, and all other entities mentioned in this article, please email kate@artscopeintl.com.


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